You will have to start experimenting with minor kinds of miseries. You encounter them every day in life; they are present every day – not only miseries, you will have to include happiness in the experiment also, because it is more difficult to be aware in happiness than it is to be in misery. It is not so difficult to experience that your head and the pain in it are two separate things, but it is more difficult to experience that, “The body is separate and the joy of being healthy is separate from me too – I am not even that.” It is difficult to maintain this distance when we are happy because in happiness we like to be close to it. While in misery, we obviously want to feel separate, away from it. Should it become certain that the pain is separate from us, we want it to stay that way so we can be free of it.
You will have to experiment with how to remain aware in misery as well as in happiness. One who carries out such experiments often brings misery upon himself, of his own free will, in order to experience it. This is basically the secret of all asceticism: it is an experiment in undergoing voluntary pain. For example, a man is on a fast. By remaining hungry he is trying to find out what effect hunger has on his consciousness. Ordinarily, a person who is on a fast hasn’t the slightest notion of what he is doing – he only knows that he is hungry and looks forward to having his meal the next day.
The fundamental purpose of fasting is to experience that, “Hunger is there, but it is far away from me. The body is hungry, ‘I’ am not.” So by inducing hunger voluntarily, one is trying to know, from within, if hunger is there. Ram is hungry – “I” am not hungry. I know hunger is there, and this has to become a continuous knowing until I reach a point where a distance occurs between me and the hunger – where “I” no longer remain hungry – even in hunger I no longer remain hungry. Only the body stays hungry and I know it. I simply remain a knower. Then the meaning of fasting becomes very profound; then it does not mean merely remaining hungry.
Normally, one who goes on a fast keeps repeating twenty-four hours a day that he is hungry, that he has not eaten any food that day. His mind continues to fantasize about the food he will eat the next day and plans for it. This kind of fasting is meaningless. Then it is merely abstaining from food. The distinction between abstaining from food and fasting, upavas, is this: fasting means residing closer and closer. Closer to what? It means coming closer to the self by creating a distance from the body.
The word upavas does not imply going without food. Upavas means residing closer and closer. Closer to what? It means closer to the self, residing closer to the self and further away from the body. Then it is also possible that a man may eat and yet remain in the state of fasting. If, while eating, he knows from within that eating is taking place elsewhere and the consciousness is totally separate from the act, then it is upavas. And it is also possible that a man may not really be fasting even though he may have denied himself food; for he may be too conscious of being hungry, that he is dying of hunger. Upavas is a psychological awareness of the separation of the self and the physical state of hunger.
Other pains of a similar type can also be created voluntarily, but creating such voluntary pain is a very deep experiment. A man may lie on thorns just to experience that the thorns only prick the body and not his self. Thus a misery can be invited in order to experience the disassociation of consciousness from the physical plane.